Are we or are we not living in an age of unusual political polarization?
So there’s two ask the grumpies questions left in our queue of unanswered ask the grumpies and they’re both hard. The other one is on the minimum wage and I actually know the answer to it (because it’s standard labor economics) but it’s gonna take a while to answer well because it’s a complex issue. (All to get to the bottom line of “economists still disagree on this one.”)
This one is out of my wheelhouse, so I’m going to punt it.
My colleagues say yes and they point to gerrymandering and that easy filibuster rule.
Bogart actually brought up two blog posts in the comments when this was asked saying:
If you are talking about Congress, here are two blog posts by scholars who are widely published on this issue: http://voteview.com/blog/?p=726 , http://voteview.com/blog/?p=953 . The short answer is yes, and that most of the recent ideological motion has been a rightward move by Republicans. If you’re talking about the electorate, I’ll need to pull up different information and my sense is the story is somewhat murkier. Gerrymandering is clearly an issue (but nothing new), and it seems we (individuals) are self-sorting in ways that involve ideological clustering more than we used to, but I’d have to dig out sources.
To which I replied:
My sense is that every time the census districts are redrawn, gerrymandering is bad. But the essence of gerrymandering is such that it only takes a little bit to tip districts over on average (the way that gerrymandering works is you’re trying to get the biggest partisan bang for the buck, so there’s a lot of fragile districts), so as time goes on the effects of gerrymandering diminish until the next redistricting.
There’s also a lot of talk lately about how republicans are doing a good job of taking over state legislatures and state governments, which can have national effects through things like redistricting or setting educational curricula.
To which she responded:
I’d have to look this up to confirm/quantify, but my sense is that a noticeable Republican takeover of state legislatures and governorships coincided with the recent round of redistricting, leading to gerrymandering more obvious to many of us because it benefits those “other” guys. The development of majority minority districts has arguably also exacerbated this, as drawing district lines to concentrate African-American voters obviously concentrates a large and probably the most predictably Democratic constituency in one place and, by extension, makes it unavailable to others.
On the other hand, prior to the 1960s many Southern states (at least) simply didn’t redistrict (much), giving a pronouncedly amplified voice to rural (white) voters at the expense of urban (black) voters. So how bad things are is partly a function of what you’re comparing them to, as ever.
Finally, if we’re talking *historically* in terms of political polarization, say, pre-Carter, or pre-Roosevelt, or pre-Hoover… that I can’t say. We’re certainly less polarized than we were in say, the 1860s. (In that we’re not having a civil war.)
Are any of our readers (in addition to Bogart) more knowledgeable on this subject than the grumpies? Chime in in the comments!